Gunshot Wound

Your exam today did not show injury to any deep organs or tissues. Sometimes a deeper injury may not be found during the first exam; so, watch for the signs below. If bullet fragments are left in place, it is because removing them may cause more injury to the nearby tissues. If a fragment is left in place, scar tissue will form around it. Once healing is complete, fragments usually don't cause any symptoms.

Home care

The following guidelines will help you care for your wound at home:

  • Keep the wound clean and dry. If a bandage was applied and it becomes wet or dirty, replace it. Otherwise, leave it in place for the first 24 hours.

  • If the wound was left open or if sutures were used, clean the wound daily:

    • After removing the bandage, wash the area with soap and water.

    • After cleaning, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment. This will keep the wound moist and make it easier to remove the stitches. Reapply the bandage.

    • You may shower as usual after the first 24 hours, but don't soak the area in water (no tub baths or swimming) until the sutures are removed.

  • If a surgical tape closures were used, keep the area clean and dry. If it becomes wet, blot it dry with a towel. After the surgical tape closures have been removed it is safe to resume your usual activities.

  • If bleeding occurs from the wound, cover with a gauze or towel and apply firm direct pressure without letting go for 5 full minutes by the clock. This gives time for a clot to form. If this does not stop bleeding, return to the hospital right away.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed.  Note: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.

  • After a gunshot wound, it is normal to have many strong and unexpected feelings. Shock, fear, depression, blame and anger are all very common and normal feelings. There may also be:

    • General sense of anxiety and fear about your safety

    • Recurring thoughts or nightmares about the event

    • Trouble sleeping or changes in appetite

    • Feeling depressed, sad or low in energy

    • Irritable or easily upset

    • Feeling the need to avoid activities, places or people that remind you of the event

Follow-up care

Most skin wounds heal within 10 days. But even with proper treatment, a wound infection may occur. Check the wound daily for signs of infection listed below. Stitches should be removed from the face within  5 days. Stitches should be removed from other parts of the body within  7 to 14 days. If surgical tape closures were used, let them fall off naturally. If they don't fall of naturally, remove them yourself after  7 days unless told otherwise.

If emotional or mental symptoms last more than 3 weeks, you may have a more serious traumatic stress reaction. Follow up with your doctor or a counselor or psychotherapist. There are treatments that can help.

This organization may also offer assistance:

  • National Organization for Victim Assistance

A radiologist will review any X-rays taken. We will tell you of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Increasing pain in the wound

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Redness, swelling, or pus coming from the wound

  • Numbness near the wound, at the time of suture removal

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Continued bleeding from the wound that is not controlled with direct pressure

  • For chest back or abdomen wounds, watch for shortness of breath, painful breathing, increasing back or abdomen pain, weakness, dizziness or fainting

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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